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Diversity Week kicks off with forum

In correlation with the university’s second annual Diversity Week, Belmont hosted a diversity and inclusion forum Monday.

The five panelists were faculty and students from campus organizations focusing on creating community for students who might have a unique campus experience.

The panelists came from a wide variety of both cultural and educational backgrounds. Dr. Mary Clark from the office Multicultural Learning and Experience, Dr. Amy Crook from the HOPE Council, Dr. Susan West from the Welcome Home Team, Jeremy Capps from the Black Student Association and Dr. Sabrina Sullenberger with Vision 2020 served as the governing voices.

Clark discussed with attendees the need for open dialogue on diversity at Belmont.

Each panelist gave an introduction and raised questions about diverse campus living before opening the floor. Many panelists provided their own perspectives from both the student and faculty point of view.

“Educators often walk on eggshells when facing the issues of talking about diversity in the classroom,” said Clark. “Being afraid of what the next person is going to say is a reality and the best solution we have is to show positivity as well as focusing on retention, recruitment and engagement for underrepresented groups.”

Those who attended gathered from a range of student organizations and many held concerns about Belmont’s lacking to provide diversity education to the masses.

“I have a hard time finding support from faculty and staff sometimes,” said Gender Equality Association President Savannah Dunmeyer. “I feel like the weight to find a safe space falls on the students. That kind of responsibility takes a toll on someone’s mental health when working without university staff.”

While some advocated for a safe space, others focused on fostering something bigger within the community.

“Belmont can model inclusion for the black student experience. I think that a lot of these campus organizations are short term solutions, but there are things we can propose as long term changes on this campus,” said Capps. “The burden is there, and someone has to shoulder it.”

With colleges across the nation receiving national attention for discrimination and even a recent incident at Belmont with a student who was expelled due to hate speech, the tension at the forum was high. Students provided insight on how they would like their university to handle stressful situations.

“I know that during the most recent incident on campus, I was hoping to see a face to face message from Dr. Fisher,” said freshman Nia Tolbert. “It would be an easy fix to have him address us as a student body when things like this happen.”

After discussion of how to make Belmont’s campus more inclusive and the curriculum more intentional towards diversity education, the panelists followed up with closing thoughts.

“There’s training solutions for people to be proactive and how to be appropriately reactive when discussing diversity in a classroom setting,” said Sullenberger. “Faculty senate meetings are open to all Belmont faculty, and the issue of classroom discussion has been talked about many times before. Many faculty feel the urge to address diversity and inclusion issues on campus but just don’t know how.”

Diversity Week will continue with events every day of the week, including a diversity keynote address with Mayor Megan Berry Friday at 10 a.m. in the Baskin Center.

This article was written by Ally Pace.

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